Thursday, 29 December 2011

my top 5 things to do on New Year's Eve

One of my least favourite nights of the year is New Year's Eve. There's just so much pressure to do something fun and exciting and memorable. Who wants to answer the question, "How did YOU bring in the New Year?" with "by sleeping"? But that's what I feel like doing. Just lowering my expectations and having a low intensity evening.

I think that my favourite New Year's Eve was when I was in university and my cousin was home from Vancouver. We had been invited to a few parties, so we went around to all of them that evening, taking photos of ourselves looking bored at each one. It was a blast.

This year, we're looking forward to hanging out with some friends (who also have kids) and returning home around 10:00. So we still have 2 hours to cover before the big minute of exactly midnight. I've come up with some ideas to fill those 2 hours and bring in the new year.

1. sleep. Ah sleep, how do I love thee? There's no way I'd go back to my high school days of staying up all night and then sleeping all day on January 1st. That just sounds like a little taste of hell nowadays.

2. turn off the lights and have a candlelit bath. Read a book in bed.

3. get take-out sushi or dim sum. Have a (quiet) salsa dance in the living room.

4. make a list of 2012 things I'm thankful for.

5. throw out all my ratty towels and underwear.

How are you bringing in 2012?

Monday, 26 December 2011

glimpses of God (last one!)

Here's a photo I took on our first snowfall in December:

angels are everywhere
Wishing you a blessed Christmas with family and friends...

Friday, 23 December 2011

the purge before Christmas (and jam-jams!)

Today I went around my house, throwing out sugar. It feels like the day before Lent instead of the days before Christmas. I recall feeling this way every year around this time - even before the big day (25th) rolls around, I'm all sugared-out. I declared a free-for-all on the gingerbread house, just because I'm sick of looking at it every day. I can feel the cavities growing in my teeth by the minute. Visions of fruit and vegetables and plain old water are dancing in my head.

I was out looking for a candy cane - to fulfill my daughter's wish. Do you know how hard it was to find a plain old candy cane? I couldn't believe it. I finally found one - but not just one, a whole box of cherry flavoured ones. They'll have to do.


But there are many sweets I look forward to. And none of them have raisins or dried fruit of any kind or marishino cherries in them. That's just how picky I am.

My favourite cookie that my Grandma Horst used to make every year are Jam-Jams. I made these last night with my daughter. Just the smell and taste of the dough brings back memories - so much that I had tears in my eyes, missing my grandma. I love traditional foods like this that link us to people and the past. Here's a plate of goodies that represents our household right now: some jam-jams (from my Swiss Mennonite background), some pfeffernusse (from Derek's Russian Mennonite background), and some Afghan baklava (from Shegofa's Afghan background). There we are - right on a dinner plate. And our young daughters get to share them all.

I'm going to share my jam-jam recipe with you - I'm sure you have nothing else to do today except make some more Christmas cookies - you probably don't have enough sugar in the house right now either. I'm sharing it because I don't know how many years in a row I've had to call my mom for this recipe. I seem to misplace it after every Christmas. If I record it here, I'll know where it is for next year (hopefully).

Jam Jams

1/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup butter, at room temperature (or, if you dare, substitute that shortening and butter with a cup of lard)
1 cup brown sugar
6 T molasses
1 t vanilla
2 eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 t baking soda
raspberry jam or apple butter

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Blend butter, shortening, and sugars. Add molasses, vanilla and eggs and blend well.
3. Add flours sifted with baking soda and mix.
4. Roll out the dough and cut into shapes. (my favourite shape is the sun-type one) Use a thimble to make holes in half of the cookies (those will be the tops of the cookie sandwiches).
5. Bake on greased baking sheet for about 6 minutes. Keep an eye on them - they can overbake very easily!
6. While they're warm, sandwich them together with jam or apple butter. They are soft and keep well.

[adapted from Edna Staebler's Food that Really Schmecks]

What are your favourite treats this time of year? 


Do you have traditional foods that you look forward to? 

Thursday, 22 December 2011

celebrating light

For the last several years, we've been celebrating the winter solstice as a family (because with a birthday and Christmas and New Year's, there aren't enough celebrations in December... :). Last year my brother hosted a solstice party with hearty French onion soup for supper, a bonfire outside, and snow angels and fun in the snow. We're looking forward to another party at my brother's on Friday evening and they're even calling for snow! (fingers crossed)


This year's solstice is officially today - December 22nd. Celebrating the shortest day of the year and the coming of the sun's light has been a meaningful experience for our family. We have paused to think about people for whom this IS a long night - people who are suffering or homeless, people going through hard times, people who have lost loved ones. We have lit candles, sung songs, eaten marshmallows around a fire, prayed, laughed, played, and watched festive movies in our new pjs.

Traditionally, the yuletide was a time to set aside animosities. In Norse tradition, enemies met under a bough of mistletoe to lay down their weapons and declare a truce. So many festivals of light (Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa) are celebrated around December 21st - people gather to celebrate while the sun is miraculously making its way closer to us in the northern hemisphere again - another reason for celebration.

I've heard of other ideas for celebrating the winter solstice:

* turn off the lights in the entire house and eat dinner by candlelight

* make beeswax candles

* give out new pajamas to get everyone through the longest night of the year

* have a bonfire, sing songs, eat roasted marshmallows

* make tin can luminaries

* sing songs about light, like "This little light of mine," "Siyahumba," "Walking in the light," "Children of the light"

* make sugar or gingerbread cookies cut into "light" shapes like candles and stars and suns

* wear glow-in-the-dark bracelets and necklaces from the dollar store

* use glow-in-the-dark fimo sculpting clay or glow-in-the-dark acrylic paint for crafts

* go carolling/wassailing

* offer some wassail (glorified mulled cider with optional brandy) to friends and neighbours

* say a yule prayer at the evening meal, in thanksgiving for all of the year's blessings and in mindfulness of those who have less

Below is our little home movie made in tribute to the turning of this season. The girls are singing the chorus to "Children of the light": We are children, children of the light, we are shining, in the darkness of the night, hope for this world, joy through all the land, touch the heart of everyone, take everybody's hand." The song that's played after that is "The Solstice Carole" written by the Wyrd Sisters, sung by saffie.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

simple gifts

If you're still scrambling for gifts (perish the thought!), I heard a little rhyme from a friend of mine that I want to pass on. For me, this rhyme helps to simplify gift-giving, and will help to guide me in future years for my kids' gifts (even the ones that just fit in the stockings).

Something you want,
Something you need,
Something to wear,
and something to read.

There! That's it. Brilliant, eh?

Wishing you a week of simple gifting...

Monday, 19 December 2011

glimpses of God

Here's a glimpse from Michelle in Virginia:

Photo credit: Michelle Gyauch Dzema, Virginia, USA


Michelle writes:

This photo was taken this afternoon as i played with my children outside. it was cold and crisp and the sun shining on everything was glorious. i was struck by the wintering azalea plants in our front yard...how the late afternoon light painted them with a touch of red. i was struck by the beauty of this plant...long past its summer blossoms, yet still a thing of beauty. it caught my eye, it held my attention, it filled me with wonder. for me, this is a glimpse...

Beautiful - photo and reflection. Thank you, Michelle!

May all of you catch more glimpses as you celebrate this 4th week of Advent! 

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

simple and special celebrations

I think a lot about celebrations at this time of year. One of our daughters has a birthday this coming weekend, and then there's Christmas. I struggle between wanting celebrations to be simple yet special. Sometimes my wish to be special drags me down the not-so-simple road. Sometimes my plans start out simple, and then snowball. Sometimes simple and special feel like 2 very different paths.

This year we're trying to keep things simple as far as gifts go - pjs and stocking stuffers. But today we're leaving for a 2 day mini-vacation to a hotel that's anything but simple, and very special with an indoor waterpark attached to the hotel. Simple goes out the window.

I've been thinking about what was special to me as a kid. When I was about 5, my parents woke me and my brother up in the middle of the night, packed us in the back seat of the pickup truck, and drove to beat a winter storm. We were off to Disney World, and I couldn't imagine anything more exciting than beating a storm to get there.

I still remember things about that trip - like watching the movie "Bambi" at the outdoor theatre at Fort Wilderness Campground, and crying when Bambi's mom was shot. And going on the "It's a small world" ride. And seeing the Country Bear Jamboree.

Kids get so much these days (mine included), and I sometimes wonder what is special. Candy from Hallowe'en hangs on til Christmas (sad but true in our house), Christmas candy til Valentine's, Valentine's til Easter. And food too - what foods are truly special when we, in our northern climate, can get oranges all year round?

How do you celebrate in simple, but special ways?

What are your memories of simple, special holidays?

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

how to survive the mall

I only go to the mall in cases of emergency. Like Christmas.

As I strolled through the mall the other day, I came up with some ways to make my experience more enjoyable. And I will pass them on to you:

1. Look for couples who are 75 or older and are strolling along, holding hands. It will warm your heart.

2. Look for naked mannequins. They're there. It will make you smile. I saw one on the floor of The Bay, totally in pieces, sprawled everywhere. Did you know that the first fashion mannequins were made of papier mache in the mid-19th century in France? Little fun fact.

3. Sing along to a Christmas tune that's blaring.

4. Walk really slowly through the mall, like a Buddhist monk, just for kicks.

5. Tell a cashier that she has a beautiful smile and watch her light up.

6. Tell yourself: I have all the time in the world.

7. If you absolutely must take a child with you to the mall (this only occurs in emergency emergency situations at our house), then teach them these French words: j'aime ├ža. It means: I like/love that. Then they can point to their hearts' content. It sounds so much nicer than "can I have this? I want that. Mommy, please can I have that? Why not? I won't ask for anything else!"

8. Thank your lucky stars you're not with a toddler screaming in the Santa line.

Monday, 12 December 2011

glimpses of God

Something I love about this time of year is that the trees are so bare that you can see the nests. Squirrel nests, bird nests, wasp nests. Down every street, I spy on the trees seeing what secrets they're revealing.

Here's a beautiful glimpse of God:

Photo credit: Jeanette Seiling, Elora, Ontario
Jeanette writes: "Nests are a heart/soul image for me. At this Advent time, I reflect on how I can make a soft centre in my heart-nest where Christ can be born anew."

Wishing you a great 3rd week of Advent!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

looking back; looking ahead

I was looking in my journal from this time last year. I wrote about my word for 2010 - what the year had meant to me, trying to summarize it in one word. I chose the word "dive" because we had spent 4 months of that year in France, and dove into a new experience. We also dove into an investigation into different kinds of community living and visited 2 ecovillages. A year of a lot of learning and exploring.

Then I tried to choose a word that would lead me into 2011 - prod me on. I couldn't choose one, so I chose two: simplify and connect.

I really like this exercise - of looking back, and looking forward. Of choosing one word to light my way.

So I'm doing it again this year. As 2011 wraps up, I can see how the words "simplify" and "connect" have led me in different ways this past year. I've been inspired to declutter over and over and over again (still not done), to try out blogging as a way of processing ideas and connecting with others, to welcome someone new into our family, and to get better at saying "no" so that I have time for the "yes" things that I really want to do. When I look back, I can see some movement and improvement in some areas where I was yearning for change last year at this time.

The word that keeps popping into my mind for 2012 (can't believe I'm even writing that number!) is: CHERISH. For me, this word has connections to family, friends, community and the earth, and also to the small moments and memories. It means slowing down, breathing evenly, practicing gratefulness, and looking at the world with a sense of wonder.

Some images that say "cherish" to me:

quilts on a clothesline
Eden and a ladybug
Photo credit: Open Shutters Photography
What about you?

What is your word for 2011? What word will light your way in 2012?

Monday, 5 December 2011

glimpses of God

me again. Still looking for small glimpses of God. Are you bored of this yet, or are you seeing some glimpses too?

Here's one glimpse from South Africa.

Karen Suderman writes:

"The mother walking ahead of us looked tired and slightly frazzled, as almost any mother of three would look by the end of the day. I can imagine this was their last stop before going home for the evening. Pick n' Pay, the local grocery store, is the last stop for many on their way home from a busy day. Gathering and herding her children along, her blond hair blowing in the breeze of incoming rain, the mother was working at making this a quick stop.


Coming in the opposite direction, having completed her shopping, was another mother of three. She too looked tired, eager to get home. However, she had encountered a problem. The grocery cart was stuck on a lip of the concrete. Her young daughter pulled with all her might on the front of the cart, her brow furrowed with strain. The mother pushed from the other side of the cart, but to no avail. It was stuck. 


The first mother moved towards the cart and helped the young girl lift it over the lip. It was a simple act. Almost insignificant. But the look of gratitude from the second mother indicated that it was anything but small. 


I love to see moments like this - people reaching out and lending a hand to each other. This incident in the context of South Africa was also significant. It was a white woman who helped a black woman. 


It is wonderful to see these small acts of compassion here. In a country that has such a brutal history of division and oppression along racial lines, it is wonderful to see how people are reaching out in small ways to begin to change that."

And a couple of photos from Karen in South Africa too:

Mpophomeni, South Africa
Zulu homestead, South Africa

Thank you, Karen!

Wishing all of you a wonderful second week of Advent!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

a henna miracle

I'm trying to retrain my brain to notice the small miracles around me. Instead of seeing things as weird coincidences, I want to see them as God's gifts - as small miracles. Because once you start looking, this magic really is everywhere. When you have eyes to see.

I want to tell you about a small miracle that happened in our household this past week.

Our Afghan foster daughter, Shegofa, has obtained her refugee status. The next step is for her to get her permanent resident card. This costs $550.

Shegofa does amazing henna designs, so we decided to host a henna party as a fundraiser for her PR card. Some family and friends came - from age 5 to age 70 - and everyone donated as little or as much as they wished. There was no set amount. It was a fun evening.
Photo credit: Open Shutters Photography
Photo credit: Open Shutters Photography

Another friend from church wanted to have a party too, so she hosted one less than a week later. Another fun evening.


At the end of the 2nd party, Shegofa counted up the total money. It was $555.00 altogether. That's weird, we thought. How did the total come so close to the needed amount, with even a little to spare?

We sent my friend a message and she replied, "Isn't God amazing!?" And my tears flowed.

Here we were, in the midst of a small miracle. A magical gift of providence.

None of the women knew how much others were giving or how much still needed to be raised. Enough had been provided - with $5.00 to spare.

I am humbled to experience this, and am grateful that my eyes were opened to see this as God's gift.

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Advent calendar crazy

I think I have always loved Advent calendars - as a kid, as a youth, as an adult, and as a parent. And not just the chocolate variety. I love ones that have little messages - tasks or things to think about each day. And the playmobil ones - they're fun too.

Last week I made a calendar at my crafty friend's place. She hosted an Advent calendar evening with a bunch of friends. Here's the final product:


About 12 years ago - before kids - Derek and I made a calendar for my family members that had different activities for the "12 days of Christmas." It started on the 10th of December and went til the 25th, so I don't quite get why it was called "12 days." Oh well. We also made a tape (yes - a cassette tape) to go along with the calendar with some of our favourite Christmas tunes for family to listen to on certain days. It was very simple and fun. This was the inside/bottom of the calendar (there was another paper over top that had flaps on it to open each day):


I also saw an idea where you can use all of your single socks strung on a line with little notes or ornaments inside each day - 24 for the days leading up to Christmas. Luckily, I happen to have 24 lonely socks in the house just waiting for a special job like this:


I also thought of using those clips above (bought at IKEA years ago) to spell out a Christmas message - adding one letter for each day from Dec. 1st to 25th. Here's what I've come up with:

Hope, Joy, Peace, Love, Christmas [that's 25 letters!]

We've used this Advent calendar below (purchased at Ten Thousand Villages) for the past few years. Each day, there's a note inside the pocket. Three years ago, Zoe was convinced that it was God writing the notes. So sometimes they said, "Be nice to your parents today." or "Don't pick your nose anymore." 2 years ago, she thought it was Santa. Some mornings Santa would forget to put a note there, and he'd magically make one appear in the afternoon or even during supper. Last year, Zoe was convinced that she recognized our handwriting.


I like to be intentional about infusing this month with good things - something little each day - thoughts, prayers, activities that focus on the spirit of giving and what matters. It's easy to get caught up in the busyness of the season and not leave time for reflection or quiet or real meaning. For me, this time of year is all about family traditions - making memories together.

It's also about noticing small miracles and glimpses of God (are you seeing them too?). In her sermon on Sunday, my friend talked about trying to resist the urge to fill up her Advent calendar with lots of activities that will fill up time and space, leaving no room for surprises or God. I'd like to have both - meaningful activity and restful space to imagine, breathe, and take in the joy of the season.

If you're wanting to craft your own calendar this year, here are some ideas to draw from:

* Be a secret Santa or angel to someone today. Do a kind deed.
* Surprise a friend with a "just thinking of you" phone call.
* Make and drink homemade Bailey's.
* Listen to the Elvis Christmas album.
* Sing your favourite Christmas carol.
* Go for a walk with a loved one.
* Look at the lights around town.
* Write yourself a letter about what this year has meant to you.
* Read your favourite Christmas story.
* Pray for situations that seem hopeless.
* Tell of a time when you felt love.
* Talk about glimpses of God.
* Tell others at your supper table what they do to bring you joy.
* Light a candle. Pray a prayer of hope.
* Make a decoration for the Christmas tree.
* Write a Christmas card to someone far away.
* Host strangers.
* Go carolling.
* Make a Christmas show for friends or family.
* Bake some Christmas treats.
* Wrap a gift to donate to a children's hospital or agency that collects toys.
* Camp out in the basement.
* Write about your wishes for the world.
* Watch a favourite Christmas movie.
* Choose some favourite foods to give to the food bank.
* Clean and decorate your bedroom.
* Be impregnated by God's spirit (that was Derek's idea).

Monday, 28 November 2011

glimpses of God

Thank you for the glimpses of God that you've sent my way this week. It's been fun to receive them and to hear descriptions of them too.

For each of the following Mondays in December, I'll be posting more photos. So think/look through your files and send one my way!

Here are the photos from this past week:


Photo credit: Mara Bertelsen, Mirabeau, France
Gorgeous! This makes me want to live in Provence. This is what Mara wrote about this photo:

"The poppies blanket Provence almost overnight every May. One day you're doing something mundane like driving to the grocery store, you turn a corner, and there are fields of red as far as the eye can see. Poppies are whimsical little flowers - they don't last long, but they are hardy in that they are considered a weed and grow where few other things will - out of old stone walls, on piles of rubbish - and take over fields left fallow. Of course, the striking beauty of the poppy fields always makes me think of how they must have contrasted with the horror of Flanders Fields. For me, they are a glimpse of God each spring, reminding me that while there may be strife in the world, the poppies still return faithfully each year."

Photo credit: Carol Penner, Vineland, Ontario
Isn't this beautiful - the wind, the thin curtains billowing, the sunset, the light? The wind is filling up these curtains, but also passing through. Carol says that this photo reminds her of feeling free. I love how this helps us to see the wind.

Photo credit: Wendy Janzen, Kitchener, Ontario
Wendy took this photo of a monarch butterfly that "hatched" from its chrysalis at their house. Her son named the monarch "Coyote" and the experience of seeing a caterpillar transform into a chrysalis and then a butterfly was a wonderful glimpse of God. She took this photo when the butterfly was still inside the glass jar that had mesh netting on top. Here's what Wendy wrote: "One thing I like about this is the blurry perspective the glas creates - my glimpses of God are rarely crystal clear!" Beautiful. Brings back memories of our own butterfly experiences.

Photo credit: Daniel Listijabudi, Jogjakarta, Indonesia
Daniel took this photo of a "halo" around the sun. We called these rainbows "sun dogs" growing up, but I've never seen a full rainbow circle around the sun. Must have been amazing! I love the sunshine streaming in from the corner of this photo, and the light through the leaves.

Thank you!




Friday, 25 November 2011

simple Christmas wishes

We've had many conversations about Christmas wishes over the past few days. And I'm actually quite pleased with how they've gone. I'm all about encouraging simple wishes.

Here's a little look-back at some letters to Santa. This one's from Zoe to Santa 3 years ago.
Dear Santa, I want 3 things. A Barbie doll, Polly Pocket,
and Webkinz. I hope you are having a great day. Love Zoe
Two years ago, Zoe asked for an iPod Touch. Eden asked for a candy cane. Eden's request was granted; Zoe's was not. Mean parents.
My wish
Last year, Eden asked for a candy cane. Again - successful.

So this year, both Zoe and Eden have both asked for a candy cane. Eden added, "And I would also like one of those oranges that you can stick a straw into and drink out of." I have only had this kind of orange in Florida, so I've suggested to Derek that we consider going to Florida to grant this wish. But that just might be asking a bit too much. What was I talking about again? Oh yes - simple wishes.

These are the notes that Eden has written over the past few days:
Eden's note #1: To Santa Claus, I want a candy cane.
Eden's note #2 from this morning (she thought she should be more polite to Santa):
To Santa Claus, Can I have a candy cane for Christmas?
Last year Eden wanted to see Santa in the mall. She hopped up on his lap and he asked, "What would you like for Christmas?"

Eden: "A candy cane."

Santa: "Oh, I think you want more than just a CANDY CANE. How about a new doll?"

Eden: (nodding her head)

Really, Santa? What's wrong with just a candy cane? I told Derek about this, and he said, "Well, he does work for the mall, after all." But still. I was annoyed that he'd encourage this "more is better" idea in a 4 year old who had a simple wish.

So here's my letter to Santa this year:

Dear Santa Claus: You can do better. Honour the simple wishes. Love, Rebecca.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

wonderfully made

When we took down the wasp nest in our front yard, we took the opportunity to examine it. We opened it up, waking up the wasps that were sleeping or hibernating.

It was amazing inside - like an apartment building with 4 different levels, all connected together. Each little hexagon inside, carefully and meticulously constructed. And then protected by this amazing paper in layer after layer around the whole building. We looked at it for quite some time, in awe.





It made me think about the detail in creation, and the detail in each of us. Incredible. How can I look at this construction, and see the tiny insect builders, and not believe in miracles? I can't.

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Psalm 139:14

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

I'm dreaming of a stressless Christmas

At this time of year there are visions of sugar plums dancing through my head. And I start to get a bit antsy. And headache-y.

I long for a stressless Christmas - of a time of warmth and joy and giving and love. But the whole living in excess thing rears its ugly head around this time too, and I have to consciously think through my purchases. I want it to be a special time together as a family, but not a time that's focused on accumulating more stuff.

I've mentioned here my grandpa and his excitement over a plate filled with nuts, candy, and one orange. I long for this simplicity - this simple joy. But I get caught up in the trappings.

A friend of mine tries to have all of her holiday shopping done by the start of Advent. I think this is a great goal, but now that 1st day of Advent is only 6 days away. Is your holiday blood pressure rising just reading that? I love the idea of having the month of December for enjoying, soaking up all of the Christmas goodness - making food, but not rushing around the mall for gifts people don't need.

Another friend lets her boys - now 5, 8, and 10 - decide between a family experience or gifts. For the past several years, they've all agreed on a family experience, and no gifts. I love this idea too. They've gone to a special hotel that has an indoor waterpark.

Last year we went with our kids to see a production of Peter Pan and gave them a trunk filled with thrift store treasures to dress up and play Peter Pan at home. That trunk still gets pulled out, and the girls reminisce about the play.

I've really tried in past years to simplify for the holidays - expectations as well as gifts. I've tried to be done by the beginning of Advent, but I manage to sneak in more shopping during December because I don't think I've bought "enough". Because here's the thing: I do love to give. Whether it's bought stuff or handmade stuff, it is fun to give. But how much is too much, and how much is enough?

Here's my shopping plan for this Christmas. And I'll try to stick to it.

Derek and I are still deciding on a family experience for this year. Hopefully we'll know by December 24th. Besides that experience, this is the plan for our immediate family:

December: we plan to pack in lots of little things that have become traditions, like the outdoor Christmas pageant complete with real camel and donkey, our church's Christmas program, seeing the lights in Waterloo Park, putting out cookies for Santa and oats with glitter for the flying reindeer, reading little messages from our Advent calendar each day, and watching some holiday movies together.

December 24th: Open new pjs that are wrapped under tree. This has become somewhat of a tradition. New pjs for Christmas Eve.

December 25th: Open Christmas stocking, filled with some small gifts and goodies.

My shopping for our extended families will involve packing little hampers of comfort and joy. One year we had my siblings and parents over for meals - each couple for one meal. We let each couple choose Italian or Asian. The girls had prepared a dance routine for them as after-meal entertainment which was very entertaining. It was nice to visit with each family

SIBLINGS AND PARENTS: DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER PLEASE, OR RISK RUINING THE SURPRISE (which may turn out to be a surprise anyway if the elves don't get everything I dream of here finished in time for Christmas.)

Included in these happy hampers will be:

* homemade peppermint lip balm

* lavender wheat heating bags (I like the instructions here, but I'm not sewing a gecko shape - I'll just make big rectangles.)

* family photos that we had taken by my friend at Open Shutters Photography

* Fun Dip

* probably some good dark chocolate, possibly with sea salt or hot chili pepper

* homemade Bailey's Irish Cream

* and maybe some shortbread or jam-jam cookies if I'm so inspired

We'll plan a dance that the girls can perform, along with some songs on instruments or voices. And a homemade card for each.

I'd love to hear about your plans, if they can be shared. How do you enter this season?

Monday, 21 November 2011

glimpses of God

This year I wrote a Christmas play for our church called "Detectives of Divinity." I got the idea from a song written by Bryan Moyer Suderman. The chorus goes:

We are detectives of divinity,
we're looking all around
for signs of God's activity
wherever they are found.
God is up to something,
of that we can be sure.
So start the investigation!
The clues are everywhere.

It's a very fun song and it's been playing over and over at our house. I love this idea - that God is with us and active, and that there are little clues to be found everywhere. I gave the kids an assignment for the next month - to find these little clues and report back what they find.

So I've decided to do the same thing. Every Monday til the end of December (I think, but we'll see...) will be "glimpses of God" day on this here blog.

This past week, two people sent me photos of their glimpses of God. Here they are:

Photo credit: Sharon Bauman, St. Jacobs, Ontario
Isn't this leaf print incredible? I love seeing these on the sidewalks - such a sign of life, and a little bit mysterious looking too. A great clue.

Here's another:

Photo credit: Marcie Klassen, Vancouver, BC
I've tried photographing rainbows before, but it's tricky. Then add people + rainbow, and it's even trickier! It's so hard to capture all those colours. I love the light and dark in this photo. Can you see the excitement the boys are feeling?

If you're inclined to email me a photo of a glimpse of God, please do! I'd love to see the clues you're finding too. Start the investigation!

Friday, 18 November 2011

the zen of dishwashing

I can't even believe I just wrote that. Normally, dishwashing is anything but zen for me. It's something I avoid doing, and do just because the mess is driving me crazy.

Other times, I get a bit cranky and even shove the dishes around a little bit loudly just to show what a great job I'm doing of caring for my family by doing all of their dishes.


But lately, I've almost enjoyed doing the dishes. Almost. There's been something very relaxing about it - warm hands in a sink full of bubbles, methodically washing the cups then silverware then plates then pots. There's been no slamming of dishes. There's been almost a routine - what, Rebecca? A routine? - of washing dishes that happens AFTER THE MEAL instead of the next morning. This is revolutionary in our household. [Mom: this is not your fault; it's mine. You taught me well. I know I'm SUPPOSED to do the dishes right after the meal. I'm just lazy and would rather read and write.]

It really is calming when I let it be. My feet are planted, my hands stuck in water, moving through the dishes as my mind wanders. And it can wander in a more peaceful way than when my body is wandering around the house trying to do too much.

I love the look of clean counters. And I've noticed that washing dishes can make my crappy moods go away. It's magic! Instead of going to bed feeling crappy because the dishes aren't done, I don't! Instead of waking up and feeling crappy because the dishes aren't done, I don't! It really is remarkable what wonderful feelings can come from a clean house. Many wise people have known this before me; I'm just a bit slow I guess.

I even have pretty, colourful rocks that are on the windowsill by the kitchen sink. So I can look at them and try to believe that I'm getting some kind of good energy from them. Spending $3.00 on these at the market seemed like a good investment in a cleaner kitchen. Whatever works, right?

Wishing you a weekend of zen dishwashing. :)

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

home sweet home

This wasp nest has been hanging in the tree in our front yard for the summer. It's only obvious in the fall when the leaves start leaving the tree. It's huge - a bit bigger than a basketball.


The really weird thing about this nest is that 2 years ago, wasps built a nest in this exact tree, in this exact spot. We cut off the branch that held that nest. Last year there was no nest. But this year - there it was again.

It must be a good spot. It reminded me of the kids' book: The Best Nest, where 2 birds go in search of their dream home, only to come back to the exact place that they started. These wasps have obviously found a place that they like - that's the perfect mix of warmth and protection - and they return.

We took this nest down yesterday because Eden wanted to have a good look at it. We opened it up and looked inside. It was amazing. There were different levels - kind of like an apartment building - incredibly intricately built.

And it made me think about having a place of our own that's the perfect mix of warmth and protection. Our house is fine, but we dream of something else. Something that feels a little more permanent. But our criteria for this house feels so overwhelming sometimes that I don't even want to start looking. I would like a dreamy home (not a dream home - that feels like too huge of a task) where we all feel like returning to.

But then I think of our Afghan foster daughter - who moved so many times even within Kabul that she can't quite remember - and this feels selfish, this dreamy home dream. Why can't I be satisfied? Is this part of my more-more-more problem?

I grew up in the same house since I was 2 - the farm where my parents still live. I have a very permanent view of home. My husband moved around a lot, so he can look at a lot of options without feeling attached.

We moved here 5.5 years ago, and we kind of saw this as a 5 year house. But now it's hard to decide what's next. Living in community - ecovillage style - was something that has appealed to us, and we visited 2 ecovillages to spy out the possibilities. Being there, though, made us realize it might not be quite what we're after. A bit too intense and too many meetings. But the community part of it was appealing. And then there's the urban/suburban/country question. Where is the best nest for our family?

I wish I could be like the wasps. Happy with a sun-drenched branch on a quiet street.

generous with my excess

In September and October I led a Sunday school class on the book of Amos. Not a book I had ever read before, and if I would have, I probably would have stopped, put it down, said "I don't need to read this kind of crap," and moved on.

But this time I took it seriously. And it's amazing what I learned. Amos is talking to the rich, telling them to stop being so complacent and to stop ignoring the poor and to do justice. One of the most striking passages is in Amos 5:21-24 (The Message version) where God, speaking through Amos, rails on the Israelites for their worship without justice:

I can't stand your religious meetings. 
I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions. 
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes, 
your public relations and image making.
I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice--oceans of it.
I want fairness--rivers of it.
That's what I want. That's all I want.

That last verse is perhaps more recognizable as "But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Anyway, interesting passage. Lots to chew on.

In one class, we talked about our generosity - in particular to the poor. At this time of year, many charitable organizations send out appeals for our money. In this class that I mentioned above, one person said, "I think of myself as a generous person. But I'm generous with my excess."

This stuck with me. I thought about how sometimes I look around our cupboards for donations for the food bank thinking "what could we do without until our next shopping trip?" Stupid. And selfish. I also thought about how I do justice at an arms-length. I give to organizations or to the food bank, but this is indirectly helping the poor. There are not a lot of encounters that I have in suburban Waterloo with the poor.

So this study was a challenge for me to get out of my comfort zone. To directly interact with "the poor." To do justice. To give not just out of my excess. I'm not sure what this means, but that's what's on my mind today.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

glimpses of God

Look for God in unexpected places...


You just might even see a johnny jump-up blooming in late fall.

Friday, 11 November 2011

imagine peace

As November 11th approached, we've had quite a few discussions about poppies in our household - about their symbolism, history, and meaning today.

Remembrance Day often leaves me with funny feelings. But maybe that's the whole point.

Many of us have connections to wars, either past or present. My paternal grandfather was a cook in the navy in World War II. And we're hosting an Afghan teenager whose mother doesn't know life in Afghanistan without war. For 39 years, that's all she's known.

Both of my daughters are planning to wear red "to remember is to work for peace" buttons today instead of poppies. They've seen them around our Mennonite circles over the years, and asked if they could wear one this year.

I'm all for remembering. Remembering is what helps us live today - remembering war can help us work for a world with no war. But why the outdoor gun salutes at the cenotaphs? What does that even mean to have guns going off while we're trying to imagine a world without war? Do we need that auditory reminder?

I remember seeing the movie "Saving Private Ryan" when I was in university. I cried and cried after watching it. I knew that I didn't need to watch that movie to know that war is awful, even evil.

I want my kids' imaginations to be stirred by a vision for peace. A vision that does not give in to war as a solution, but strives for something more. This is what I want our schools to do - to stir up peace.

And imagine... if the money that is poured into military budgets around the world were poured into creative peacemaking efforts instead... just imagine!

Imagine a world without war. Imagine peace.

My brother-in-law Bryan Moyer Suderman wrote a song this summer with this chorus:

"There's a new world coming,
it's already here,
there's a new world on its way
There's a new world coming, 
it's already here,
let's begin to live that way."

A world where "the wolf shall live with the lamb," where "the cow and the bear shall graze" and where "a little child shall lead them."


At 11:00 today, I will pause to imagine this world. Will you join me?

Thursday, 10 November 2011

breaking jars

Saint Teresa of Avila wrote “All concepts of God are like a jar we break, because only the infinite can contain our perfect love.” 




Do you have a certain picture of God? I do. Sure, there's the old man with a beard sitting on a throne. But more than that, I can sometimes think of God as a measuring stick. And I don't always measure up. Not a very uplifting image of God. 


A couple of years ago, I had some dreams that were striking. At the time, I was getting down on myself for something or other. And I was missing my grandma, who had died several years before. 


One week I dreamed about my grandma 3 nights in a row. On the first night, I dreamed that I tried to hug her, but my hands went right through her. Then the second night, the hug worked. I felt it. On the third night, there were no hugs, just warm, hospitable laughter.


After that 3rd night, I went for a morning walk. Why was I dreaming these dreams? I didn't get it. It just made me miss my grandma even more. 


But then as I walked, it struck me suddenly. So suddenly that I started to cry. This could be my image of God. My grandma, who always warmly welcomed me. Where I always felt like I was enough. I measured up. But with her, it wasn't even about measuring. It was about being - talking, sitting, visiting, quilting, painting, baking, laughing. Perfect love. 


So for me, God is like a grandma. 


There. A new image. A jar broken. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

letting go

More on this "less" theme...

I read the book The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia - a beautiful story for young and old about seasons and acceptance.


Freddie the Leaf was so thrilled to be living in the spring and the summer. But when fall came, he started to worry. He saw his friends around him start to fall, and he wasn't so sure he was ready to join them. What would the ground be like? What would the fall be like?

It reminded me of our friend Carol who recently died. She hung on, not wanting to leave this life and the loves all around her. But she got to a point where she let go with grace, and she was herself right up until the end - always giving, always hospitable. 


I saw this little leaf on the morning of her funeral. It was so striking - the entire tree was bare except for this one little leaf. And I thought about how I hold on. How I like to control things. How it's hard for me to let go. 

Funerals have a way of reminding you of what's important in life. After being with my grandmas as they were dying, and hearing Carol's story, I am reminded to let go. To free fall, not knowing where I will land or what it will be like. To let go of the little things, and then - when it's my time - to hopefully let go in the biggest way.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

expecting less

I have a problem: I always want to do more. There is a constant drumbeat in my head, sometimes louder than others, that pounds out "more...more...more...more."

But I feel like this needs to be my motto for right now: less... less.


I tend to have high expectations, which can be a really good thing. But it can lead to a lot of stress and disappointment, so I'm going to try something new for a season: expecting less. Of myself and of others. 

This seems a bit counter-intuitive, and my brain doesn't really like the sound of it. It goes against a lot of what I've been taught - to go for the gold, that if I can dream it I can do it, to reach for the sky, to push myself to be all that I can be. Normally, I want to be more creative, a better mom, a better writer, all things to all people, more, more, more... but this can lead to a feeling of never enough.

I want to be enough.

Here's one good example of expecting more of myself. Derek and I drove to Vermont to a funeral this past weekend - a nine hour trip each way. We drove Friday, went to the funeral on Saturday, then drove Sunday. Guess how many books I packed to read for a writing project that's fast approaching... 25! 25 books. Now that's just stupid. But it's not the first time. I pack all of this work, and then I'm disappointed when it doesn't all get finished. So on my way to Vermont, I told myself "expect less." Whenever feelings of stress would come to mind because of all that I had to do and the limited time before my deadline, I would say to myself, "less... less... less." And I had a great weekend!

"Expect less" could be a great motto for this Christmas season too - but probably not too many stores would use it as their slogan. It's something I want my kids to learn - to expect less, not more more more. Like my grandpa, who as a child was thrilled to come down on Christmas morning to find his dinner plate filled with nuts, candies, and one big perfect orange. Predictable, but very special. 



This tree struck me today because during this end of autumn season, it is expecting less. Each day it will hold less and less of the colour and vibrancy and fullness that the leaves and seeds bring. Soon it will be bare - the least it can be. Preparing for a distant season when it will again blossom and grow exponentially. Outwardly less, but inwardly holding much potential.

It speaks of gentleness and rest to me - not necessarily as the way I'll be forever, but for a season - because this is what I need right now. Even in the midst of deadlines and funerals and sick kids and travel - perhaps especially now - I need to expect less of myself. And this feels freeing and calming in a weird and wonderful way.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

one Cheerio at a time

If you're looking to slow down your life, get a 10-month old baby, sit on a couch, and feed her one Cheerio at a time.

Do this for at least 15 minutes, preferably with no other distractions around you. Don't think about anything else, especially not lists.

It is bliss, I tell you, pure bliss.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

dancing in the morning

... is something I don't usually do. Or ever do. Until this morning. I've decided to give it a try - to change something little about the way I wake up.

This is how I usually wake up: roll out of bed, stretch, think "do I have to get up already?", grouch around at one of my family members (whoever is closest or whoever woke me up), get breakfast for kids, make lunches for kids, turn on CBC to wake up my brain, hurry everyone, get frustrated that everyone isn't hurrying fast enough, shovel down my own breakfast, bark out some orders, sigh, leave the house hopefully on time. I usually wake up a bit stressed out, already feeling like I don’t have enough time, already making mental lists and feeling like I won’t get enough done in the day, like I'm not enough.

So this is what I did this morning: rolled out of bed, did a little jig, laughed, went about daily routines with more calm than usual. So it's worth trying again.

I was inspired by a book I'm reading called The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho, and the dancing in it has struck me. Dance is used as a spiritual exercise, but also as a way to start the day in a positive, creative way that influences the rest of the day.

This photo was taken at my daughter’s dance class, and I just love the various expressions, and the full body movement, the joy and inhibition. Totally there, in the dance.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

giving and getting

I decided to do a little Hallowe'en research project, just because. Hallowe'en seems to be a bit about alter egos - trying on different personas - so maybe I'm trying on the "student with a research project" persona right now.

The Gaelic festival called "Samhain" was celebrated on October 31st. It was believed that on this day, the boundaries between the living and the dead overlapped. Masks and costumes were worn to appease the spirits and gourds cut into frightening faces. Doesn't sound like it was a fun evening - more of a "let's get through this alive" kind of evening where people feared for their lives. But then St. Patrick changed things a little bit, according to legend. He wanted Christians to celebrate the saints who have gone before us - not to fear them or fear death. Apparently, St. Patrick started going door to door, spreading good cheer by giving out small cakes and sweets.


So when did it turn from being about the giving of sweets to the getting? I guess for a while, when trick-or-treating for candy became more popular, many looked down on the practice. I love this little tidbit: in 1948, members of the Madison Square Boys Club in New York City carried a parade banner protesting Hallowe'en that said "American Boys Don't Beg."

Well, we've come a long way, boys. There's a big part of me that likes Hallowe'en - it's mostly fun and candy hangovers and creative costumes. I'm not a huge fan of the gore and scary stuff and neither are my girls. Last night, we went around our neighbourhood looking for "happy houses" to approach for candy.
me and Raggedy Ann
But it made me think about other events that have become "getting" times for my kids - birthdays, Christmas, and Easter. And that's what makes these times special too - the treats that come along with them. But I hope that I'm also creating lots of times in the seasonal year when giving is expected and encouraged and fun.

I'm happy to see the high school pick up on something that church youth groups have been doing for awhile: trick or eat, where they go around to people's homes to pick up items for the local food bank. I hope that this continues to catch on - for the young trick or treaters too - so people will not only stock up on sweets for October 31st, but also cans and boxes and food for those who really need it.

I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver. - Maya Angelou

Friday, 28 October 2011

getting ready for Hallowe'en

Hallowe'en is definitely a favourite holiday in this household. We plan our costumes months in advance, and they usually change at least 3 times. But as of today, we've sorted out what we'll be this October 31st: Raggedy Ann and a dog. These 3 things have been indispensable for me in gathering costumes over the years:

1. thrift stores

2. my mom (who can sew at the last minute)

making a hat for Raggedy Ann
3. face paint

Here's a little memory trail of costumes from other years:
a rainbow
Pippi Longstocking
scarecrow
puppy
a cat who wears eye shadow
Well, I'm off this weekend to load up on crappy candy. And you?

P.S. I really would love another tradition besides handing out crappy candy. I don't want to be a scrooge and not hand it out, or not let my children gather it, but really. It's too much. And it's crappy. And it lasts for way too long the way we ration it out.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

changing the story

Thanks to some wise readers' advice yesterday, I took off my watch for the day. Just to see what would happen. I know, radical.

It was a wonderful experiment - one I'll definitely do again. Whenever I checked my bare wrist, I said to myself: "You have enough time for today."

And you know what? I did. I really felt like I did. I felt myself breathing easier. I didn't feel as much like a chicken with its head cut off. I felt more rested. And satisfied with what was accomplished. And for the slower cups of tea that I drank too. When I did check the clock, it was usually much earlier than I predicted, and that felt like a gift. EXTRA time! What a bonus! My mind automatically thought: there isn't enough time. But looking at the clock, I was wrong, and I had much more time than I predicted. So it was good that I wasn't very in sync with the actual time.

I changed the story of my usual day.

Speaking of chickens, here's another story I have running through my head on a regular basis: it's about  the Little Red Hen. She asked for help, nobody came running, and she said, "Then I will do it myself." And she did. Over and over again.

I am the Little Red Hen in my mind. It's a martyr story that I tell myself pretty much daily. There are so many things to do, and I'm the only one that can/will do them. I've asked for help before, but sometimes think I shouldn't have to keep asking. People should just notice things, like I do. This story gets a bit tiring to hear over and over again, especially mixed with the "there's not enough time in the day" story.

Another story that needs changing.

I'm convinced that our thoughts can change our actions, so I want to change some of these not-so-helpful thought patterns. Take those useless broken records out of my mind and toss them in the trash. Yesterday, the bare wrist was a cue to try on another story for my day to expand my sense of time; I wonder what my Little Red Hen cue will be, and what my new story will sound like.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

not enough hours

I've been noticing lately how much I look at my watch. And it bugs me.


And I'm often running late or almost late because I just want to squeeze more more more into the time. And it's never enough.

I wish I could see each day as enough - see time as expansive. Not pack as much in. But I do, do, do. I'm a regular little red hen. I'm a human doing, not a human being.

But I want to rest more. Play more. Look at my watch less. Sigh less. *sigh*

"Slow down and enjoy life. It's not only the scenery you miss by going too fast - you also miss the sense of where you are going and why."  - Eddie Cantor


When do I feel that "time is enough" feeling? When I'm visiting with friends or family. Summer camping. Lying under the stars. Walking through the pumpkin patch. Tobogganing down hills of snow. Swimming or canoeing in the lake. Then time is enough.